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How to Change Your Engine Coolant


Moderately Challenging


This is a generic guide on how to drain, refill and bleed your cooling system. Always follow the manufacturer’s maintenance interval and specifications. Failure to do so may result is premature failure of the cooling system components and rust to build up in the system.

Some vehicles have special procedures that one needs to follow when draining and refilling your cooling system. As always, if you are unsure of your abilities or the procedure, let a professional do the work for you. It will save you time and money.

The engine should be at normal operating temperature to get the most coolant out of the radiator and engine. The most coolant will drain out at this time because the thermostat is open. Drive the vehicle and monitor the engine coolant temperature gauge. When the gauge is in the “normal” range, the coolant can be drained.

REMEMBER- The coolant that will be draining will be around 185F/85C. It can burn you if you are not careful. Use caution when removing the coolant fill cap or radiator cap.

Inspect the radiator to locate the coolant drain plug. It may look like a wing nut or a hex head. Once it is located, place a suitable pan under the drain to catch any coolant that may run out. You can plan on getting up to three gallons of coolant to drain out depending on the capacity of the system. This procedure can get messy as the coolant will splatter when it hits the container. You may need more than one pan.

Four quick steps to draining your engine coolant

  1. Bring coolant to normal operating temperature
  2. Remove the radiator cap.
  3. Loosen the drain until coolant begins to flow.
  4. Wait until all of the coolant has drained before closing the drain plug.

If you can locate the engine block coolant drain plug, now is the time to drain the coolant in the engine.

Steps to refilling the cooling system

  1. Open or close bleeder screws as necessary if applicable.
  2. Add coolant until you can see it at the cold level mark on the degas or overflow bottle. If filling the radiator directly, fill to one inch below the fill cap opening.
  3. Keep adding the proper mixture as recommended by you vehicle manufacturer until you do not see any air bubbles.

IMPORTANT– Do not over fill the system. If you do over fill it at this step you will have a huge mess when the air from the engine makes its way to the bottle and forces the coolant out.

  1. Open or close bleeder screws as necessary if applicable.
  2. Start the engine and set the heater to maximum heat and fan on medium low.
  3. Run the engine to operating temperature. This may take some time with it idling. You may increase the engine speed to 2000 RPM’s to speed up the process.
  4. Watch the coolant level in the radiator or bottle. It should burp as air escapes and take in coolant as needed. Add coolant when it does this.

IMPORTANT– Do not overfill as there may be more air trapped and it will burp again.

  1. Continue until it doesn’t burp but keep an eye on the temperature gauge. You may have to shut it off and resume it later if it starts to boil over or if air pushes out.
  2. Once the engine is at operating temperature and no more coolant can be added, test drive the vehicle. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge. If it fluctuates, you have air trapped in the system. Bleed the system as the manufacturer recommends.
  3. Double check the coolant level once the vehicle cools down. Adjust the level as necessary.
  4. Road test the vehicle.

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